Library Study Project

As I move beyond the writing level where advice like “use proper manuscript format” and “don’t insult editors” no longer suffices, I’ve been looking for more ways to expand my writing skills and new things to learn.  In the pursuit of more advanced learning, I’ve come across a lot of advice from other writers, some of which I think is awesome, and some of which just makes me scratch my head (because either I’m clueless or I just don’t learn that way).

One of the bits of advice that I found valuable was to read the bestsellers and study people further ahead down the road I want to walk.  I decided to take that advice.  I’m not even close to rich, so alas, I can’t just go buy a million books like I’d want to.  But on the other hand, that forced me to do something I haven’t done in a while.  I went to my local library, and by local, I mean within a five minute walk from my home.  Can’t really beat that.  I do love owning books, but, from an economic standpoint, the mission I was about to embark on wasn’t feasible.

So in May I decided to suck it up and go to the library.  After paying 13.47 in library fines from 1998, I got my information updated (the library never forgets!) and was on my way.  I was just about to start writing a mystery/thriller/suspense novel (I thought it was a thriller, I’m told it’s actually a mystery, so what do I know? From here on out, I’m abbreviating those genres M/T/S and lumping them together, damnit).  So I decided to start with that section, which I quickly learned is shelved together with general fiction anyway. Sci/fi and Fantasy has its own section, as does YA, and chapter books.

The plan? Read at least five books by any author on the shelf with at least ten books who has been published in the last five years.  That’s a heck of a lot of authors, across a lot of genres.  I started with names I recognized, like Roberts and Patterson.  So far I’ve read over 100 books since May.  I make myself give each book 100 pages to lose or keep my interest and I think only two or three have failed past that point.  I’ve started reading authors I haven’t heard of as well, as long as they fit the 10+ books rule and are still publishing (or have been in the last few years).  The librarians have even commented on how much I read. Crazy.

But I’m not just reading for reading sake (or to impress librarians).  Every book I read I make mental (and sometimes physical) notes on what that author does that I think works, and why I like it, and how I might be able to emulate it.  Some books I’ve read twice.  I’ve even, as much as I detest outlining other’s works, have reversed outlined a few books to see how the plots work and where the emotional and storyline beats are.  I don’t love every part of every book I read, but I’m starting to see patterns and similarities of what these authors are doing with their writing that keeps them selling books.  And this process is starting to show me what I really like in what I read, and thus also what I might want to work on incorporating into my stories.

I’m only a few months into the library project.  I don’t know if I’ll keep it up quite as hard core, since I’m missing reading stuff that doesn’t fit into my qualifications, so I’ve started taking side forays into books that are coming out now or have come out that I want to read.  But I’m going to stay on top of the bestsellers, for sure, and keep seeing what’s working for the long-time professionals out there.  Because they are stomping down a path I want to be on, and while I might make my own sideways journey to the same destinations, I figure I can only learn something from those who’ve carved the paths ahead.

So that’s the library project.  Look at the shelves and see which authors (or pen names, however you slice it) have more than ten books on the shelves.  Check to make sure the author has published at least one book in the last five years (or ten or whatever you want to go with).  Then read at least five books by that author and pay attention to what you like, what you don’t like, what works, what doesn’t, and similarities between that work and others that have sold a lot.

Step three: profit.

Ok, still working on that one *grin*

8 Responses to “Library Study Project”

  1. Thomas K Carpenter

    I’ve been doing that for a while now, though not as focused as you have been the last five months. Mostly I’ve been focusing on short stories, buying cheap used anthologies and studying the stories I liked. I’ve done the same for certain writers (Suzanne Collins, George RR Martin, to name a few). I definately haven’t outlined any, that might be a next step to unlock my learning. Either way, it’s all exciting and I’m having, even though I am still yet unpublished.


    • izanobu

      Yeah, I found reverse outlining to be interesting, though not something I’m willing to do for every book I like (it takes a while, for one).

      Anthologies are great, too. I buy current ones just so I can see what the short story market is doing. I figure short stories have a quicker turn-around time, so it is probably easier to see what tastes/trends are now since an anthology story may have been bought within the last year.

      The free online professional magazines are good for study as well 🙂

  2. David Barron

    Reverse outlining is always a good idea, especially for figuring out that “Middle” part of the book. I think most short story writers can get out a good Beginning and End.

  3. Marina J. Lostetter

    Wow, 100 books since May. You are a reading goddess. Wonderful, systematic approach. Like Thomas said, I try to pay attention to similar details in the books I pick up, but have never started off by saying “Must read so many books by this author because of reasons A, B, and C.”

    Those outlines must be a pain in the butt 🙂

    • izanobu

      They can kinda be a pain, but are good learning. I’d post one as an example, but I’m not sure of the legalities about that, so I probably won’t do that.

      Perhaps though, one of these days, I’ll post one of my own outlines or something. Though that would be a huge spoiler if the books ever get published. Oh well. Guess maybe I’ll just keep talking around it instead 🙂

      I’ve discovered some authors I wouldn’t have read on my own most likely, which is an added side benefit 🙂

  4. Thomas K Carpenter

    Btw, I picked up that book Dean suggested at the workshop — Writing the Blockbuster by Zuckerman. Got it at the library since it was $80 on amazon. Well worth the read, I’m about halfway through and I’ve picked up a number of great new ideas. The whole outlining section sucks arse, but so far, the rest has been good. I’d give it 4.5 stars. 🙂

    • izanobu

      check the hardcover prices for used at amazon for that book, Tom. I found one for like 1.45. I got a copy from the library too, until my own copy gets here.
      So far I’m liking it (even the outlining parts). I figure this will be one of those books that I return to again and again and hopefully get more from each time 🙂

  5. Thomas K Carpenter

    Yeah, I like this one enoug I would own it. I also put Sol Stein – Stein on Writing in that category. It’s a book I’ve read a half-dozen times.

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